Sermon for Easter Day

Text: Luke 24:1-3
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

Getting our attention

We have declared numerous times this morning “Christ is risen”.  We have sung with a great amount of enthusiasm “Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia” Easter is the most joy filled day in the Christian year – a day we celebrate Christ's resurrection and the exciting news that death never has the last word!  Not for Jesus. Not for us!

Easter is God’s promise of his ongoing presence and love shining in our lives even when we walk through the darkest valleys.  That’s something we need to hear, because … dark valleys are all around us.

Before we go on, let’s remember that Easter morning begins in the valley of the shadow of death.  Jesus’ followers are filled with grief.  There is trauma after seeing the cruel suffering of their beloved teacher and friend.  There is fear and many questions.  There is confusion, a deep-down heavy feeling in their hearts, hopelessness if you like – their master lay dead in a stone-cold tomb.

The women came to the tomb carrying spices to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They didn’t have time on Good Friday to treat his body with love and respect.  After more than a day since his hasty burial their grief was so deep, they had to do something. They were walking in the dark valley of death.

Dark valleys – dark valleys can come in many forms.  Dark valleys are unwanted and unpleasant and scary. Every person at some time in some way is touched by a dark valley of some kind.
Maybe your dark valley has been a sickness your body has succumbed to, or the effects of old age, and you are grieving the loss of good health,
or maybe someone close to you has a terrible illness that they cannot escape, and you are feeling their pain.
Perhaps your dark valley was attending a funeral and grieving the passing of a friend or family member from this life.  A person you will miss.  Maybe a person gone too soon. Maybe you dread your own dying day.
Maybe your dark valley was an unkind word or action that has caused you sorrow,
or you feel distant from God and grieve the loss of the faith and closeness to God that you once had.

Perhaps you have been saddened by the loss of members from your church, the loss of the way things used to be in the church, the lack of young people, the passing of people who were the backbone and guiding influence in your community – these are dark valleys for you.
Perhaps your dark valley is the sadness you feel about relationships within your family, how some have missed opportunities, or how some have turned away from their faith.
We have all walked the dark path of COVID these past 2 years on edge every time someone coughs, when to wear a mask, whether to go into a crowd.  Your level of fear and anxiety has risen.

You know the dark valleys that are in your lives – those places that make you sad, worried, that leave you feeling powerless to change, those people and situations that cause you pain and even loss of hope. 

I’ll stop talking for a minute while you try and get an image in your mind of what you might consider a dark valley in your life. (Pause)

In dark valleys, when we are at our lowest, God wants to get our attention. In fact, right through the Bible God continually gets people’s attention when they are distracted by the darkness around them – Adam and Eve, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Jonah, and so on. On Easter morning the women were trudging along in the dark valley of death and God got the attention of the women in a big way.  What he did was change the focus of their attention.

First of all, the stone was rolled away, they went in the tomb, and Jesus’ body was gone.  Now that got their attention.  They weren’t expecting that.  Then two men with the brightest clothes asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!” Remember what he told you: that he’d be handed over, crucified, and on the third day rise again.  They weren’t expecting that either.  You can almost hear the women say, “Oh yeh. I remember.  Now it all makes sense.  This is amazing.  Let’s go back and tell the others”.

God had their attention all right.  Knowing that Jesus was alive, that he had risen from the dead, made a massive difference to the lives of the disciples.  The risen Jesus makes all the difference in our lives as well.  There is little doubt that we will walk through dark valleys along our journey in this life and as much as we don’t want to be affected by the feelings of fear and helplessness as these dark valleys close in around us, they will continue to come, and they will scare the living daylights out of us.

But we have a problem, and it is this. We often believe that we are walking through the dark valley alone as the sadness, pain, defeat, evil and death take control of our lives.  Some people say, “I can do this by myself” but why should we endure so much alone when trusting Christ to help will give us so much greater strength and help.

And so at Easter God gets our attention by pointing us to the cross and the open grave and telling us loudly and clearly that Jesus has walked through the dark valley of sin and death for us.  He died on a cross for us and he came through it all victorious for us.  He has defeated everything that wants to suck the life out of us and has passed that victory on to us. Nothing can stand between us and Jesus and his love for us.

At this point we can’t help but think of Paul’s words that remind us that there is no “dark valley” that Jesus cannot penetrate, and so he walks with us, comforts us and rescues us.  He says, “I am certain that nothing can separate me from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers and powers, neither the world above nor the world below (and we can add here whatever “dark valley” that threatens your happiness and peace) – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Jesus certainly got the attention of the disciples when he suddenly appeared through locked doors and calmed their fear saying, “Peace be with you”.  Jesus was alive.  This was a real game changer for them.  They were changed from frightened mice to bold proclaimers of the gospel. 

Today God gets our attention and tells us that there is only one person who can offer strength, comfort, security, hope and confidence in all the uncertainties and troubles that we have in this world, even in the face of the greatest fear of all – death, and that person is the one who has risen from the dead and walks with us on our journey through life. 

This Easter Day we are urged to get the attention of those who are walking in dark valleys and point them to the Prince of Peace, the risen Saviour who is always ready to help those who look to him.

We say to those who are fearful, “Don’t be afraid” because Jesus has them in his embrace and will hold them close during their time of trouble. The risen Christ says to them, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). It is Jesus who says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1).
“Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead” (Revelation 1:18)

On this Easter Day Jesus gets our attention and says to each of us personally and individually,
“Trust me. Don’t be afraid.  Don’t worry.”
“I know you and I know everything that is happening to you,
I know the dark valleys that you are walking through,
I know your fears and anxieties and the things that are troubling you
and I will walk beside you always and I will help you and strengthen you so that you will be able to endure it all.  I am here – trust me.
And when that day comes when you must walk through the dark valley of death, have no fear I will walk through that darkness with you.” 
It’s with this kind of confidence that Paul was able to say in the face of all the adversity that he faced as a follower of Christ, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Remember at the beginning of the sermon I asked you to reflect on those things in your life that lead you into “dark valleys” – the touch of death, an illness, depression, anxiety, loss, sadness, grief, fear, remorse, anger, lack of future direction, feeling helpless and loneliness.

This Easter day God gets our attention and tells us loud and clear that the risen Jesus is the great giver of hope in the face of every dark valley.
Hope points to a positive future, reminds us we are not alone, and that we can continue because Jesus shows us the way through the darkest valley.
Hope reminds us that Jesus is our living Lord who is committed to walking with us and helping us to endure all things right now. 
Hope comforts us with the knowledge that we can be contented and at peace even when we are threatened and our safety uncertain.
Hope reassures us that even though death may end our journey here in this life, this is not the end, there is an eternal home waiting for us.

Has God got your attention this Easter?  Have you heard him say to you, “Peace be with you”?  He invites you to trust his love for you.  Trust the love he promised you at your baptism and reminds you every time you receive his body and blood in Holy Communion.

No-one knows what tomorrow may bring but one thing we do know is this – we have a living Saviour who will make a difference in the way we face tomorrow.  The risen Jesus gets out attention when he promises, “I will be you always, to the very end of the ages”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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